Jana Says

Living life from cover to cover


Show Us Your Books: The month with amazing books

You voted, right? If not, stop reading this, go vote, and then come back. Unless you live outside of the US in which case, keep on reading. 

I don’t know what happened this month. It’s like the gods and stars of book goodness aligned and sent me a whole bunch of great books all at once. Even the one I didn’t finish was great (you’ll understand when you see my explanation as to why it was a DNF). There’s a TL;DR at the end since I believe there’s 9 or 10 books this month and, as always, the reviews are similar to what you see on Litsy if you follow me there. And, also as always, make sure to visit my co-host, Steph, as well as some of the other bloggers who join us. 


Alright, friends. Prepare your Goodreads. 

The Couple Next Door by Shari Lapena. I waffle back and forth between this being awesome or just okay. Because it’s both. At times, it’s a gripping, intense, fast paced thriller and at others it’s a sloppy let’s throw stuff at the wall to see what sticks mess. It became quite predictable so the twist wasn’t really a twist at all and that was disappointing, and the missing baby seemed more like a plot object than point and that got under my skin. But the writing was fine and it’s a wonderful plane/vacation read. It also kept reminding me of the Madeline McCann case, like the author fictionalized or speculated on those events.

Eileen by Ottessa Moshfegh. The writing in this book is simply astounding. Probably some of the best writing I’ve read in awhile. However, the story was mediocre and Eileen, the main character, was horrible. I know she’s supposed to be, and the the narrator, Eileen’s elderly self, tells you that up front but she was so insufferable and pathetic it made the book hard to get through at times. The end pay off was decent and if you like character studies, this would be a good choice for you. 

Burn Baby Burn by Meg Medina. SO. GOOD. It’s a contemporary historical fiction story set in 1977 New York. Queens, to be precise which, incidentally is where I live following my birth so I was ACTUALLY ALIVE when this story takes place. My parents never talk about the events the story is set against and so it made that part even more interesting to read. Then there’s the compelling, wonderfully written family drama, coming of age, fiction story wrapped in a YA novel you forget is YA. And the pieces of feminism thrown give it that extra kick of awesome. 

Adulting: How to Become a Grown-Up in 468 Easy(ish) Steps by Kelly Brown Williams. As a 39 year old self-described mostly competent adult, I can safely say that had this book existed when I was in my early 20s, it would not have taken me 39 years to become a competent adult. This books is smart, funny, comprehensive, and practical. There isn’t a topic that goes untouched. If there’s a person in your life who’s struggling, at any age, with adulting, give them this book. And then make them read it.

The Sea of Tranquility by Katja Millay. I know I’m late boarding the bus on this book. I know everyone read it last year. But. OMG. This book ripped my heart apart. I don’t even know how to discuss what a painfully beautiful and heart wrenching story this is. Phenomenally written, too. A lesser writer would have made this a trite, stereotypical YA romance with tortured souls and all that shit. Nope. This was way beyond that. This was intense in the way of All the Bright Places and it will haunt me like that one still does, too. 

Holding Up the Universe. Speaking of Jennifer Niven, this is the book that follows All the Bright Places (it’s not a sequel. Just her next book). It was not a bad book. The characters were interesting and I love her writing but the story wasn’t as strong as I’d hoped. And I would have loved to see less talk of Libby’s weight. It was basically it’s own character and it got annoying. Like she was trying REALLY HARD to prove that fat people are beautiful, too. STOP. We get it. I can’t help but compare this book to Dumplin’, which is similar but executed much better.

Behind Closed Doors by B.A. Paris. FUCKED UP. That’s what this book is. FUCKED. UP. It got predictable at times but then it turned on its head and wasn’t necessarily what you thought would happen. It should come with 8 million trigger warnings because it’s disturbing and depicts emotional, physical, and psychological abuse in an unfortunately realistic manner. But when you think twisted thriller, think of this book. It’s hard to read at times but definitely worth it. Oh, and if you’ve read it and figured out what the fuck he does in Thailand, can you let me know? 

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates. I don’t have words to do this book justice. And it’s not really my place to do it justice because it’s not about me. This book wasn’t written for people who look like me, although all people need to read it. It’s painful and magnificent and make you think on every page about systemic racism and how it influences and seeps into everything. His writing is superb and framing it as a letter to his son makes it that much more impactful. Read it, read it, READ IT.

Adnan’s Story: The Search for Truth and Justice After Serial by Rabia Chaudry. This was my DNF. I know! It surprised me, too. And please don’t let the fact that it was a DNF for me make you think it’s reflective of the quality of the book. It’s not. If you’ve followed Adnan’s case, you know that Rabia is a passionate advocate for him and the book makes a compelling case against his unjust conviction (and the courts agree, too, so there’s that). But since I was obsessed with Serial and continue to follow what’s happening, the book didn’t really present anything new and it became boring and I had to let it go. 

Bonus book: The Recovering Spender by Lauren Greutman. Ordinarily I don’t review books I read for work purposes for SUYB but this one was worth a mention. If you have a problem with debt or overspending, I highly recommend this one. She talks, very candidly, about her problem and how she and her husband worked their way to a debt free life and her 12 step plan (which is based on the AA plan), is freaking brilliant. She does get a little pushy at times with her website and courses but you can skip those parts without losing context. P.S. She sent me a copy of the book.

TL;DR: You’ll be fine adding any or all of these to your TBR. Not a single one I don’t recommend. But if you limit yourself, definitely add The Sea of Tranquility, Burn Baby Burn and Between the World and Me.

Okay. Now it’s your turn! Show us what you’ve got! Bloggers, link up; nonbloggers, leave a comment with what you’ve been reading. And for those of you who like to plan, next month’s is on December 13 (my daughter’s birthday, incidentally) and there will be a bonus best of linkup later in the month. We’re working out the details. 


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Show Us Your Books, October edition: Celebrating 2 years!

YOU GUYS. This month marks two years–TWO YEARS–of Show Us Your Books. I cannot even express in words how amazing that is and how honored I am that every month for the last two years, you have linked up and talked books with me and Steph. It is amazing to connect with other readers from all over the world and there are dozens of books I’ve read that maybe I wouldn’t have if it weren’t for your participation. So, as a thank you, we have a little giveaway. Make sure you read through the whole post to see what prizes we have for you guys and enter to win. 

As far as my reads this past month, it was quite a mixed bag both in terms of my reaction to the books and in terms of topic. I don’t want to say it was my most eclectic month on record but it’s definitely a contender. And, as always, these are either direct copies or derivatives of my Litsy reviews (follow me there if you’d like. Just search for my username, Jana).show-us-your-books-2016-300by300

In a Dark, Dark Wood by Ruth Ware. You’ll get more of my feedback on this book when Steph and I discuss it on The Armchair Librarians but for now, let’s say that it’s exponentially better than her other book but it’s still an average, standard, passes the time just fine thriller. It’s a perfect plane or vacation book, one that keeps you reading but doesn’t hurt your brain and isn’t 100% unputdownable. She weaves an intriguing story, even if you solve the mystery pretty early on, but the storytelling is kind of lazy and boring at times. That said, I read the book in a day so it didn’t totally suck.

Heartbreaker: Stories by Maryse Meijer. I have mixed feelings about this collection of short stories. On the one hand, it’s a beautiful collection of gorgeously written, sad, and fucked up stories about love and sex and relationships and the really dark parts of all of those. On the other hand, they were so damn weird that I struggled through it at times. But I guess that’s what made it so compelling. I can’t say that I recommend it to everyone, because some might find some of the stories  offensive or way too out there, but it was good. Very good.

Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult. While written in typical Picoult formula, it’s probably the most relevant and intense book of hers I’ve read (save for Nineteen Minutes. Probably on par with that). It addresses all the things regarding racism we’re afraid to confront and you can tell the care she took in researching and writing. This book will give you all the emotions and, in the end, gives you pause to truly think. This is not an easy book, and might upset people, but I’m glad it’s out there (and I can’t wait until Steph and I get to see her talk about it). *received as an ARC from NetGalley

The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware. NOPE NOPE NOPE. There was nothing about this book I liked except maybe the news reports and emails. Had I not had to finish it for The Armchair Librarians, I would have bailed. It was boring and sloppy and tedious and tried so hard to be The Girl on the Train but failed so hard. The main character was wholly unlikable and I gave zero fucks about what happened to her and I gave less fucks about the plot. And the ending sucked balls.

Lady Cop Makes Trouble by Amy Stewart. The Kopp sisters series is easily my favorite series of the last 5 years and I don’t generally like historical fiction. That’s how good this shit is. I love, love Constance’s tenacity and badassery and take no shit and get shit done and shut your face, I can take care of myself and don’t you tell me I can’t because I’m a woman attitude. We need more books about women like this, historical or fiction, and all the kudos to Amy Stewart for writing these. I swallowed this book whole in about 3 hours, I loved it so. It maybe wasn’t as good as Girl Waits with Gun but definitely close. 

Monster by Walter Dean Myers. I got this from last month’s SUYB but cannot remember who reviewed it but thank you to whomever that was. As a former juvenile probation officer, the subject of this book hurt me in places. It was such a creative way to tell Steve’s story, and the diary entries were particularly poignant but the end felt rushed. It tapered off when it shouldn’t have. For all the in-depth, thoughtful moments throughout the rest, it was disappointing. The author did a great job writing from Steve’s perspective and it really makes you think about some moral issues in our justice system. 

The Life Changing Magic of Not Giving a Fuck by Sarah Knight. ALL THE YESSES TO THIS BOOK!!! I loved it so, so, so much. Hilarious and practical and perfect for anyone no matter your level of fuck-giving. You will learn, you will laugh, you will have revelations. This is book #1 in my adulting starter kit. However, if heavy swearing is not something you enjoy or if you are offended by that kind of language, then maybe pass. And she has a second book coming out in December. I CANNOT WAIT.

TL; DR: Add The Life Changing Magic of Not Giving a Fuck, Lady Cop Makes Trouble, and Small Great Things. Run away from Ruth Ware. 

Now it’s your turn! Link up and show us what you’ve read! Make sure you visit some other bloggers, too. And below the linkup is the giveaway so definitely check that out.

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Giveaway time!!!


Here’s the prize breakdown (and of course they’re all book related): 

  • First prize = $50 Amazon gift card;
  • Second prize = banned books socks and a library card catalog coffee mug;
  • Third prize = reading journal and book ornament;
  • Fourth prize = card catalog pouch (when we bought it, Out of Print sent a book to a community in need, so it’s a feel good prize too). 

Good luck and thanks again for 2 amazing bookish years!!

 a Rafflecopter giveaway

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Show Us Your Books, September edition: The one with the buzzy books

Remember how I said that August was going to be Westerns month? That declaration was slightly premature. While I had (and still have) several Westerns on my nightstand’s TBR pile, I only read one. Well, two if you count the DNF. Rather, this was the month of “it” books. I read three popular, much buzzed about books which is unusual for me (oh, and I’m currently reading a 4th. Review on that next month). 

The DNF book hindered my reading roll and I wound up only finishing my usual amount of books despite the extra week between August’s SUYB and September’s. Also on the list of August’s disappointments was being denied the ARC of Lady Cop Makes Trouble and Maria Semple’s new book. TWO. Two rejections. I think NetGalley is finally mad at me. HOW DO I SHOW YOU I’M SORRY?!

Let’s chat about what I did read since that’s why you came here today. As always, I’m copying my reviews straight from Litsy (now available for Android, I believe) with maybe a few extra words here or there. Follow me. My username or whatever is Jana. I know. I’m imaginative.

No Place by Todd Strasser The intent and heart of this book are in the right place, bringing a perspective to homelessness that’s not often shown in a fiction book, particularly a YA book. And he raised valid points in the plot. But it came across as oversimplified and what the author thinks happens to the homeless or goes through a kid’s head rather than what actually does and it came across as ignorant at times (ex., calling the homeless camp “Dignityville”). I wish he’d researched before writing. Would have had a better impact.

The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson So. This book. The murdery parts were awesome, intriguing, and crazy and I couldn’t stop reading and the reason I didn’t DNF this one. I needed to keep learning about this psycho. The World’s Fair parts, not so much. Boring is too kind of a word. I appreciate the research (Todd Strasser could take notes on how to do research from this guy) and effort that went into it but good god, what a slog to get through. Drawn out and put me to sleep more than once. I know many love this book. I am not in that group.

I Love Everybody (and Other Atrocious Lies) by Laurie Notaro The title is basically the best part of this book. There were some amusing stories but overall, I found her bitter, kind of an asshole, and trying way too hard to be funny instead of actually being funny. I love a good humor memoir but honestly, this wasn’t it.

Grief is the Thing with Feathers by Max Porter Reading this book, I felt like someone who goes to an art show and sees a sculpture made of poker chips and branches and string and there are all these people around, saying how beautiful it is but you just don’t get it. You know you’re seeing something amazing and different but it’s confusing and you’re torn if you love or hate it. That’s this book. The writing is gorgeous and poetic and unique in its storytelling but I just didn’t get it. 

Dark Matter by Blake Crouch My brain does not comprehend science fiction. Especially the science part. So this book broke my brain a little, trying to understand the science behind what was happening. But, just like I did with The Martian, I muddled through that part to get to the story. Which was fantastic. Thriller, action, relationships…it all mixed together in this fast paced, unputdownable cocktail of awesome (you can hear my and Steph’s full thoughts on this in the most recent episode of The Armchair Librarians)

The Thicket by Joe R. Lansdale This book took a bit to get into but I am glad I stuck it out. A gruesome, violent, sometimes funny and touching story starring morally ambiguous characters (and one wild hog. Literally. A hog) set in the late 1800s (or what I assume is the late 1800s). The writing was strong and I loved how the narrator broke the 4th wall at times. This book isn’t for everyone but if you can handle graphic violence and you like westerns and people with questionable morals and motives, get on this one. (Thanks, Erin, for the recommendation).

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead I generally do not enjoy historical fiction for so many reasons not worth discussing. But this book. Holy shit, did I enjoy this one. It was difficult to read at times (especially with the state of race relations in this country right now) and it made me sad and uncomfortable but that means it did its job. This book wasn’t supposed to make you comfortable or tell a fluffy bunny story. It takes place in a terrible, awful part of US history. And the way he told Cora’s story hurt, even with the occasional bits of optimism thrown in. It did drag at certain parts but just as it was getting dull, he’d shift gears and have an interlude about a different character. (This is an upcoming Armchair Librarians topic)

The Girls by Emma Cline So I don’t get the hype with this one. It was an interesting story, a topic that definitely is intriguing, and the teenage narrator was a good choice. But the book was S-L-O-W and boring at a number of points, although the writing could be gorgeous in its mundane. Actually, the writing was almost too pretty for the story it was telling. Like, a worse author should have written it. Anyway, I left the book feeling sad and disappointed. There should have been more or different or something else. I know that life isn’t always more or something else but this story set itself up for that and then fell completely flat. It did pass the time just fine but certainly not what I had hoped.

Doc by Mary Doria Russell. This was my DNF. I had to let this one go. I love the premise–a fictional account of Doc Holliday–but it was too easy to put down and too hard to pick up. Not for me. Not linking to it either because I want to spare you.

TL;DR: Add Dark Matter, The Thicket, and The Underground Railroad. You’ll be fine skipping the rest. 

Now it’s your turn. Show me what you’ve got! Don’t forget to visit Steph and some of the other participants because there’s a bunch of diversity out there and you never know when you’re going to stumble onto something. Nonbloggers, let me know in the comments what you’ve been reading! 

Next one is October 11. October is also the 2 year anniversary of Show Us Your Books and Steph and I have something planned. Look out for that. 

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Some of my favorite things. About books. Because what else would we talk about?

According to Litsy, today is National Read a Book Day. While every day around these parts is read a book day, I thought that, in honor of the day, we’d cover a few reasons why you should read books. Or why I love books. I think they’re interchangeable. way to read

  • Books do not care what you look like, how you smell, or if you even remembered to brush your teeth. Books do not judge.
  • Books are available to everyone, regardless of income (well, this is a post in and of itself because it’s really not that simple but we’ll discuss this another day)
  • Books are there for you, day or night. Especially in the night when you can’t sleep. 
  • You’re never lonely with a book.
  • With a book, you’re never bored. And with all the ways you can read books, you can always have one with you.
  • There’s a perfect book for everyone.
  • This:reading in quiet
  • They’re just so pretty!
  • You can learn AND be entertained with books.
  • JOBS! With books, there are so many jobs (also another post)
  • Books make great conversation starters as well as provide easy talking points.
  • They never go out of style. In fact, some get better with age.
  • Speaking of age, as you hit different ages, a book you once read becomes new again. Perspective is a glorious thing.
  • Books leave a legacy.
  • They make wonderful heirlooms.
  • Vocabulary, creativity, imagination, curiosity. They all get bigger with books. 
  • They open your eyes, your world. your mind

And because I love him so, let’s end with a quote from John Green:story purposeWhat are some of your favorite things about books?

Judging Covers with The Family: It’s Back

This entry is part 10 of 11 in the series Judging Covers

It’s been awhile since I’ve done one of these and The Child was begging and I can’t stand that sound so here were are. Let’s all be enlightened. 

the girls

Book #1: The Girls by Emma Cline

The Child says: I think it’s about some criminal girls who don’t want to be arrested and they always wear sunglasses so the police can’t identify them.

The Husband says: (Jana’s note–he mulled this one over for a very long time. I formatted the rest of the post while I waited) To me, it’s a ripoff of Almost Famous but if I’m having to think what it’s about since it’s obviously not that, it makes me think it’s about girls who are sweet but are not really. They’re really dark.

Goodreads says: Northern California, during the violent end of the 1960s. At the start of summer, a lonely and thoughtful teenager, Evie Boyd, sees a group of girls in the park, and is immediately caught by their freedom, their careless dress, their dangerous aura of abandon. Soon, Evie is in thrall to Suzanne, a mesmerizing older girl, and is drawn into the circle of a soon-to-be infamous cult and the man who is its charismatic leader. Hidden in the hills, their sprawling ranch is eerie and run down, but to Evie, it is exotic, thrilling, charged—a place where she feels desperate to be accepted. As she spends more time away from her mother and the rhythms of her daily life, and as her obsession with Suzanne intensifies, Evie does not realize she is coming closer and closer to unthinkable violence, and to that moment in a girl’s life when everything can go horribly wrong.

the thicket

Book #2: The Thicket by Joe R. Lansdale

The Child says: About a really creepy man who wears a cloak over him and brings a horse out into the middle of this creepy, abandoned place which is kind of like the place where The Lorax takes place but scarier. It probably smells. His horse doesn’t like it very much. 

The Husband says: It’s definitely not a happy book. And (insert maniacal giggle) there’s definitely a horse involved in some way. And things are going to get thorny. Get it? THICKET! And the horse isn’t going to make it out.

Goodreads says: Jack Parker thought he’d already seen his fair share of tragedy. His grandmother was killed in a farm accident when he was barely five years old. His parents have just succumbed to the smallpox epidemic sweeping turn-of-the-century East Texas–orphaning him and his younger sister, Lula.

Then catastrophe strikes on the way to their uncle’s farm, when a traveling group of bank-robbing bandits murder Jack’s grandfather and kidnap his sister. With no elders left for miles, Jack must grow up fast and enlist a band of heroes the likes of which has never been seen if his sister stands any chance at survival. But the best he can come up with is a charismatic, bounty-hunting dwarf named Shorty, a grave-digging son of an ex-slave named Eustace, and a street-smart woman-for-hire named Jimmie Sue who’s come into some very intimate knowledge about the bandits (and a few members of Jack’s extended family to boot).


Book #3: Epitaph by Mary Doria Russell

The Child says: This town that goes to war in the middle of the 1800s. And when they’re going to war, a cannonball gets out of control and makes a hole in the sky. Then people gets telescopes and try to study what’s in outer space based on those holes.

The Husband says: Definitely about those Wyatt Earp days and all the death that probably happened around there. Things were so crazy that they even shot up a saloon that had a picture of the town.

Goodreads says: A deeply divided nation. Vicious politics. A shamelessly partisan media. A president loathed by half the populace. Smuggling and gang warfare along the Mexican border. Armed citizens willing to stand their ground and take law into their own hands…

That was America in 1881.

All those forces came to bear on the afternoon of October 26th when Doc Holliday and the Earp brothers faced off against the Clantons and the McLaurys in Tombstone, Arizona. It should have been a simple misdemeanor arrest. Thirty seconds and thirty bullets later, three officers were wounded and three citizens lay dead in the dirt.

Wyatt Earp was the last man standing, the only one unscathed. The lies began before the smoke cleared, but the gunfight at the O.K. Corral would soon become central to American beliefs about the Old West.

white trash

Book #4: White Trash: The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America by Nancy Isenberg

The Child says: Pass because I don’t understand it (when explained to her this was nonfiction and she struggled with the concept of class as an economic/social status rather than an actual class)

The Husband says: It should say “this book will discuss the following”. That’s the only other thing it can do.

Goodreads says: The wretched and landless poor have existed from the time of the earliest British colonial settlement. They were alternately known as “waste people,” “offals,” “rubbish,” “lazy lubbers,” and “crackers.” By the 1850s, the downtrodden included so-called “clay eaters” and “sandhillers,” known for prematurely aged children distinguished by their yellowish skin, ragged clothing, and listless minds.

Surveying political rhetoric and policy, popular literature and scientific theories over four hundred years, Isenberg upends assumptions about America’s supposedly class-free society––where liberty and hard work were meant to ensure real social mobility. Poor whites were central to the rise of the Republican Party in the early nineteenth century, and the Civil War itself was fought over class issues nearly as much as it was fought over slavery.

Reconstruction pitted “poor white trash” against newly freed slaves, which factored in the rise of eugenics–-a widely popular movement embraced by Theodore Roosevelt that targeted poor whites for sterilization. These poor were at the heart of New Deal reforms and LBJ’s Great Society; they haunt us in reality TV shows like Here Comes Honey Boo Boo and Duck Dynasty. Marginalized as a class, “white trash” have always been at or near the center of major political debates over the character of the American identity.

winter family

Book #5: The Winter Family by Clifford Jackman

The Child says: I think that, based off of the blood, it is about people fighting for their rights (Husband: to party?) and when they’re fighting, there’s this snakes that comes around and starts killing people

The Husband says: It’s about a family called the Winter family and they are (long pause)…they have a business and they ship stuff in the 1800s and people try to steal from them but they fight back, protecting their company’s stuff.

Goodreads says: Spanning the better part of three decades, The Winter Family traverses America’s harsh, untamed terrain, both serving and opposing the fierce advance of civilization. Among its twisted specimens, the Winter Family includes the psychopathic killer Quentin Ross, the mean and moronic Empire brothers, the impassive ex-slave Fred Johnson, and the dangerous child prodigy Lukas Shakespeare. But at the malevolent center of this ultraviolent storm is their cold, hardened leader, Augustus Winter—a man with an almost pathological resistance to the rules of society and a preternatural gift for butchery. 

From their service as political thugs in a brutal Chicago election to their work as bounty hunters in the deserts of Arizona, there’s a hypnotic logic to Winter’s grim borderland morality that plays out, time and again, in ruthless carnage.

Jana says: is it obvious I have a theme going on?

Have you guys read any of these? What’d you think? I should have my opinion on them for the next Show Us Your Books on September 13th.

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